PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They are the masters at finding things.
Vital parts of the community, not just tracking criminals to make the streets safer, but also locating the lost – children, the elderly, the frail, and anyone in-between.
If you’ve gone astray, these dogs, and their noses, will track you down.
K-9 Cappy is well known around the City of Pittsburgh. He’s the newest member of the Pittsburgh Police K-9 Unit, and his tracking skills are incredible.
But there are other bloodhounds in western Pennsylvania, highly-trained and ready for action, when the call goes out.
The Greensburg VFD Bloodhound Team have worked plenty of cases. Two of its most important members are Delphie and Darcy.
Just a few weeks ago, they helped track a missing teenager, bringing them home safe and sound.
“If they’re missing, we find them,” Greensburg Bloodhound Team handler Elysia Battistella said.
When time is of the essence, these dogs and their noses can be an incredible resource.
Elysia says in one case she worked on, her K-9 tracked down a missing little girl on Mother’s Day weekend in mere minutes. Bringing a scary situation on what should have been a joyful weekend to a calm and safe end.
“There was a missing 5-year-old child, and they were having a party, a Mother’s Day gathering, and the little girl wandered off, and we assisted, and my dog found her in about seven minutes,” Elysia said. “So we find missing children, older people, criminals.”
So what makes bloodhounds so special?
Well, the nose knows.
According to PBS Nature, bloodhounds have 40 times the “scent receptors” than humans. These dogs have noses with about 230 million olfactory cells, researchers say.
That’s what gives them their incredible sense of smell.
But it’s not just their noses. Experts say their physical appearance also makes them good tracking dogs.
PBS Nature says their loose, wrinkly skin “helps trap scent particles,” their droopy ears help gather odors from the ground, and their long necks and muscular shoulders help them to keep their noses close to the ground for long periods of time.
But it’s not just their gifted noses and physical features. It takes a lot of training, too, along with dedicated handlers.
The Greensburg VFD Bloodhound Team is made up of seven dogs and their handlers.
Team Capt. Lou Battistella, who is also the Greensburg VFD assistant chief, says the team starts training their dogs at a very young age.
“We buy the dogs as puppies, and we start training them at 10 weeks, 12 weeks, as soon as we get them,” he said.
And just like human children, the handlers and trainers try to make learning into a fun game.
“It starts in short spirts. It’s a game to them, it’s hide and go seek. We just get further and further away,” said Capt. Lou. “We shake a rag at first to get their interest, to get them stimulated to follow. We buy a puppy harness. [It’s] what tells them it’s time to go to work, it’s not play time anymore.”
Having K-9s like Delphie and Darcy, and their handlers, in our community is a wonderful asset. A security blanket when someone needs help, bringing comfort to families in frightening times, knowing such strong noses are on the trail.
All they do to help the community, there is a way the community can help them keep up with their needs.
Capt. Lou says, “Each dog is owned by their handler, and the handler provides for the food and the basic healthcare. Really, the only thing that we seek donations [for] is to secure necessary personal protection equipment because we work in the criminal element, we have to supply our own vests, tactical vests. Pretty much, that’s where the funds are utilized is for equipment such as the protective vests when we’re in a criminal type call.”